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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

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200                             UFE   OF
improvement in man,, from the oldest natural history
of the old Hellenes. He calls the great world events,
such as the voyage of Colaus from Samos, to beyond
the pillars of Hercules, the expedition of Alexander
to India, the dominion of the Romans, the spread of
the Arabian religion, and the discovery of America,
sudden means of increasing the knowledge of nature,
especially in the life of those nations which once
inhabited the shores of the Mediterranean. And, at
this point, Humboldt refers to languages which each
operate as a means of communication between sepa-
rated nationalities, and which, by comparison with
each other, by an investigation into their constitution,
and the similarity of their character, assist in the
study of the human races.
Humboldt likes always to build his investigation
on some object, in all his observations which lead him
to universal subjects, and, thus,^in his description of
the world in general, which is represented principally
by natural, philosophical, and rarely by perceptive
illustrations, he seeks some point of earth upon which
he can advance contemplatively and experimentally.
He takes, for this purpose, the Mediterranean Sea as
the circumscribed space, round which those nations
lived who prepared .the foundation for our subsequent
western civilization. From these shores of the Medi-
terranean he explores the course of civilization, and
finds the history of the knowledge of nature advance
progressively with civilization, but not proceeding
from one, but from several primitive nations. In the
remotest antiquity, at the extreme horizon of past
historic ages, we see, contemporaneously, several
bright stars from which the rays of civilization, crossing
each other, have flowed on, as in Egypt, Babylon,
Nineveh, Cashmere, Iran, and China. Humboldt
says, on this occasion, "these central stars remind one,
involuntarily, of the greater among the dazzling stars
of the firmament, of the eternal stins, in space, of
wMch we perceive the brilliancy of their light, but
do; not know, except of a very few, their distance
from our planet^'